Proverbs 8: 22-31; Psalm 8: 5-9; Romans 5: 1-5; John 16: 12-15

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

A review of the past couple weeks. On the Ascension we celebrated Jesus’ return to his Father’s side. Pentecost fulfilled Jesus’ promise that he would not leave us on our own to struggle in a contrary world of rejection, indifference and outright hostility. Today we continue to celebrate the gift of the Spirit’s faithful presence in our midst. As he promised, Jesus has not left us orphans.

Did I say "a world of rejection, indifference and outright hostility?" Yes, I did and that reality is what attracts me to Paul’s counsel to the Roman Christians. It begins with a double reassurance. Paul wants to make sure that, as we undergo the trials that test our faith, we can be confident that we don’t have to go through them on our own.

When Jesus walked among his disciples he was limited to the world in which he lived. Now he is, "our Lord Jesus Christ," a completely new creation, no longer restricted to place, time and culture. Nor is he just among a small group of Christians, but he is with all of us now. Like the communities Paul addressed, we face our own trials and opposition from the world.

Jesus of Nazareth is the lens through which Paul interprets the Trinity. The way someone acts gives insight into who they are. Paul tells us, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith…." That’s where it begins for us, doesn’t it? It is not about what we did to please God; but that God has first been pleased with us. God, in Jesus, has "justified" us. The term "justification" is the Bible’s assurance that we have been put in right relationship with God. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we are now at peace with God and ourselves.

How do we get this "righteousness," or "justification"? Well, we can never earn it. Paul is quite clear about that. Instead, as he has often said, we are set right with God through faith. But it does not end there, in complacency. Instead, the faith we have received urges us to respond to our neighbor as Jesus did. Where does that take us? To the Trinity we celebrate today, not a doctrine, but a celebration of verbs – divine verbs. God, our Creator, has in Jesus shone the divine face of love and forgiveness on us. He has revealed God’s unsurpassing, unlimiting and unearned love for us. He has also gifted us with the Spirit, the life force within us, that moves us to accept Jesus into our lives by faith and to respond to the Spirit’s urging to be as Christ was in the world. See, it’s about verbs – God’s doing and our responding.

Paul teaches that being put right with God and acting like Christ in the world through the Spirit, fixes our gaze, not only on the present world, but on the future glory we will share with God and one another. Jesus realized that we need the reassurance our faith gives us. So at the Last Supper he promised us his Spirit to "guide you to all truth." Notice how frankly Paul speaks about "affliction" and "endurance." Clear-eyed Paul knew, from the trials he underwent for his ministry and what he saw in the suffering of Christians where he visited and preached, that we would need guidance, strength and endurance from the Holy Spirit.

But also note how reassuring he is about God’s love being "poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given us." Once again, there is the promise of the glory we will one day have; we who have been gifted with the Spirit of Jesus that enables us to persevere through trials. Paul says we have "gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand." One translation for "access" is "safe haven or harbor." So, grace has provided us a secure place in God’s presence as we face affliction because of our faith.

Paul’s Christian communities faced persecution from their Roman oppressors and their own Jewish community. But more. It is clear from Paul’s letters that Christians also suffered discord among their own ranks – about how to interpret the meaning of Jesus’ life for their individual and community lives.

In the context of so much pain Paul is encouraging the Roman Christians to accept their suffering and see it as a proving ground for their faith and a sure sign that God has not abandoned them, but is still loving them and pouring out the Holy Spirit upon them.

We are celebrating Eucharist together today. Despite the awful scandals our Church has endured these past two, or three decades, we have reassurance in the Word, the Eucharist and our gathered community that God is faithful and has not left us, but can even enable growth during this time of testing. Isn’t that what Paul told the Romans and is telling us now?... "affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character and proven character hope and hope does not disappoint."

While our modern minds might want it, Paul does not yield a definition of the Trinity. It was not till centuries later, in the face of Christological heresies, that the Church spent extended periods of time reflecting on the Trinity. Paul was speaking to Christians under trials to help them understand their identity and responsibility as followers of Jesus Christ. Here and elsewhere, he describes the basis for our faith and its consequences in the lives of Christians. We can talk about the Trinity in quite reasoned tones but, for Paul, the Trinity was up close, and very active each day as our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: